Our Complete Guide to Member Needs Assessment Surveys


Conducting membership surveys is a useful way to judge your organization’s performance in the eyes of your most avid supporters — your members. Such surveys can provide valuable insights into how others perceive the work you do — and by extension, the success of your nonprofit. Furthermore, they can help you determine whether or not you are adequately meeting the needs and expectations of your members.

Whether you are facing a critical issue or simply checking in, membership satisfaction surveys can inform your organization’s future. They can also be important tools for ensuring you maintain your membership base as your nonprofit continues to evolve.

Here is what we will discuss in this survey guide:

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What Is a Member Needs Assessment Survey?

A member needs assessment survey is a tool that you can use to understand your members’ experiences with your organization. It is an opportunity to learn what they want from you and whether you are meeting those wants.

The survey results should inform offered benefits, operational changes, and administrative updates. In other words, they help identify where you stand in building a mutually beneficial relationship.


Why Conduct a Member Needs Assessment Survey?

Conducting a survey allows you to gather first-hand feedback directly from your members. The survey will enable you to assess the impact of your work as well as identify outstanding member needs.

member-needs-assessment-survey-why-conductCorinne is liking the idea of conducting a member needs assessment survey!

Going straight to the source provides a more reliable and accurate data set. The information you collect will allow you to more efficiently prioritize resources, such as time, personnel, and funds. Additionally, strengthening your relationship with your members by having them see their feedback honored can lead to increased satisfaction and retention.


Before Launching Your Survey

Whether you are a new organization or a well-established one, surveying your members can yield invaluable insights. That said, hastily jumping to survey development can produce less-than-optimal results.

There is some preliminary research to conduct to ensure you are capturing the right data points. Covering the topics below will help you determine what to include in your survey and in what level of detail.

Identify Your Audience

To ensure your post-survey data set is as relevant as possible, be clear about who you are targeting. Knowing what you are trying to accomplish with your survey will help you narrowly define the target audience. Some options include:

  • The full membership base

  • A subset based upon engagement history

  • A certain geographic area or chapter

  • A subset with certain tenure thresholds

  • A subset based upon certain demographic attributes

To receive the most impactful results from your assessment, be sure to tailor your questions according to the intended audience.

Choose the Appropriate Survey Format

To increase the likelihood of members responding to your survey, be mindful about how you administer it. Some members may prefer to have a paper copy they fill out and return via mail. Others may prefer to fill out an online form that you send out in an email. There may even be members who would like to provide responses over the phone.

Knowing the best way to reach your members will go a long way in increasing your completion rate.

Understand the Current Issues

Before generating survey questions, touch base with your member-facing employees, such as your membership manager and benefits coordinator. They can identify what your members like and dislike about your nonprofit and the world at large. Those learnings are a good starting point for thinking about what to capture in your survey.

Pro Tip: Similar to member-facing employees, check in with the individuals who manage your social media presence. They will be able to share what members contact them about most.

Understand the Competitive Environment

Points of differentiation are key drivers of success for any business or nonprofit. It is helpful to perform an analysis of the current landscape to know how your competitors are serving their members.

You can see where you stand in terms of product or service offerings as well as marketing activities. You can then use the survey to gauge interest in offering new products and services or discontinuing current ones to become more competitive.   

Understand the Current Member Engagement Data

Hopefully, you already have information about what your existing members participate in the most. Understanding the popularity of existing programming will help you tailor what you focus on moving forward. Your survey can be a solid vehicle for determining the relevance of your offerings and identifying any gaps that may exist.

You can also use data related to your marketing efforts to see what is working and what is not. If you know emails get more traction than social media posts, keep that in mind.

Finally, consider conducting pre-survey interviews. Select a few highly engaged members to reach out to ahead of time to learn what is top of mind for them. Also ask what they are hearing from other members. You can use that information to focus your survey since you are targeting what is already an active conversation.

Determine the Appropriate Survey Timing and Cadence

Consider the ideal time of year to launch a survey to your members. Be mindful of ongoing operations, such as key fundraising events or membership drives. This can reduce distractions and conflicts by identifying when your personnel are already stretched thin. When this is the case, do not add to their to-do lists.

Sticking to a regular cadence will help set expectations with members. For example, surveying members the same month each year establishes a rhythm. Members will be more prepared if they know the feedback solicitation is coming.

Also be sure you give yourself enough time between surveys to implement changes. Members want to see their feedback in action so that they know taking the survey is a valuable use of their time. 

Understand How To Use the Data

It is important to clearly define the purpose of your survey. Be precise about what you hope to accomplish by collecting information from your members. You may wish to:

  • Discern overall membership satisfaction

  • Gauge their interest in new offerings

  • Identify gaps that exist within current offerings

  • Understand their communication preferences

  • Identify retention probability

In addition to defining the overall survey purpose, each question should serve a specific purpose. Your results need to help you build a story around your desired theme. 

Pro Tip: Before you distribute the survey to your members, have a test group of employees or loyal, trusted members run through it. They can provide feedback on the experience, identifying questions that are unclear or do not align with your survey goals.


Types of Questions To Include in Your Survey

Surveys can cover many broad topics. That said, the hallmark of a good survey is simplicity. Whether you decide to do a short, informal ask-around or develop a more structured form, do not overcomplicate it. You want your survey to be user-friendly and logical.

member-needs-assessment-survey-questions-to-includeEmily is taking down notes on some questions to ask!

Make sure you are asking the appropriate types of questions to generate relevant, actionable results. Make the distinction between qualitative and quantitative questions to get the right depth of information. Possible types of survey questions include: 

  • Ranking

  • Agreement scale

  • Multiple choice

  • Drop down

  • Text box

There may be times when you want answers to be anonymous, as this can garner more honest and objective results. Other times, attributing responses to a particular member helps personalize your engagement. Just make sure it is clear to respondents whether it is anonymous or not.

Consider the categories below when developing your survey content. 

Demographic Information

It is important to know basic demographic information about your members. The data collected in this section provides a backdrop for analyzing your results. Examples of demographic data points include:

  • Age

  • Gender

  • Ethnicity

  • Marital status

  • Education level

  • Housing

  • Profession and industry

  • Income

Collecting this information can help you identify response themes among those with similar demographic attributes. This helps you better target benefit offerings and marketing efforts in the future.

Benefits Satisfaction

If you are considering adding or removing programs, gauge how your current members feel about what you offer. Knowing what benefits are the most and least valuable will help you modify your activities to hopefully enhance retention. Data collected in this section will determine how well you are delivering on your commitments to your membership base.

Ask your members what they would like to see. Perhaps they want to suggest conference topics, increase the frequency of meetings, or have more networking events or webinars. Whatever the case, understanding what your members perceive as beneficial can help you tailor your programming.  

Another item to potentially include in your survey is satisfaction with the level of customer service provided. Responsive and helpful customer service in nonprofit organizations is crucial for driving overall satisfaction and retention.

General Feedback

Collecting high-level membership information can also be helpful for assessing how your organization is performing. The answers to basic membership questions can provide insight into members’ intent to renew.

Some general membership questions include:

  • How long have you been a member?

  • How did you hear about us?

  • How likely are you to recommend us to a friend or family member?

  • How likely are you to renew your membership?

Asking about their intent to renew with an open-ended question will help solicit more feedback. Your members will identify their reasons for staying or leaving. Being able to predict your membership levels is critical because it carries financial implications. Additionally, having this data can help you determine how focused to be on crafting and distributing your membership renewal letters.

Communication Preferences

You do not want to smother your members by inundating them with communication touchpoints. But you also do not want to be an afterthought by reaching out too infrequently. That is why it is valuable to ask your members about their preferences. Be sure to let them identify how often they would like you to reach out and through which channels.

Volunteering Interest

Many nonprofit organizations rely on volunteers to sustain operations. That includes tapping into members to form and lead committees. Use your survey to determine which members are interested in holding a leadership position within your organization.

Members who volunteer may be likely to remain with your organization for longer, as they have a vested interest in supporting the mission. Your survey can pique their interest and start to cultivate your next generation of leaders. Just be sure to clearly communicate expectations through membership committee guides to keep everyone on the same page.

Advocacy Likelihood

Strong advocates can be one of your nonprofit’s most important assets. Your assessment can help you determine how likely your members are to advocate on your behalf. Ask them how likely they are to recommend your organization to a friend or colleague and why. Knowing their justification for why they would or would not recommend you is helpful for revising your engagement strategies.

Once you have completed the above steps, you are on your way to launching your survey!

Pro Tip: Be mindful of the final length of your survey. It should take your members about 10-12 minutes to complete it. Anything that is too long could result in a higher incompletion rate. On the flip side, a survey that is too short will not give you as many — if any — valuable insights.


Analyzing and Communicating Your Survey Results

Once your survey window closes, it is time to tabulate your results. Present the data from the quantitative results in visual form through graphs, charts, and tables. For qualitative questions, group the responses into common themes or categories.

member-needs-assessment-survey-communicating-resultsMatt is putting together datasets on his survey results!

After you have collated your responses, have a collective discussion with your organization’s leadership. It may require several meetings, but ensuring everyone is interpreting the data the same way is critical to establishing next steps.

The final step is communicating the outcomes with your members. You asked them to take the time to provide feedback, now tell them what you plan to do with it. You can share identified strengths, upcoming programming changes, or areas of opportunity to explore. Members are likely to support future actions if they recognize them as a direct result of their survey responses.

Regularly surveying your members should be part of your standard operating procedures.

Comparing data sets year over year tracks your progress, allowing for course correction if necessary.


Final Thoughts

We hope you feel ready to start planning your member needs assessment survey today! Having concrete evidence of how you are doing in terms of meeting needs and expectations is invaluable. This type of survey establishes a feedback loop with members, which is a critical step in improving member engagement and making program modifications.

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đź’ˇWhat is the purpose of a member needs survey?

A member needs survey captures how well you are meeting the expectations of your members. With the results, you can refine membership benefits, review marketing tactics, evaluate customer service, and more. Find out more. 

🔑 What questions do membership surveys ask?

A membership survey can ask a variety of questions depending upon the specific reason for administering it. Some common types of questions revolve around demographic information, benefits satisfaction, overall membership satisfaction, communication preferences, and renewal intention. Find out more. 

đź“ť How do I analyze and use the responses from my member needs assessment survey?

Start by grouping the qualitative and quantitative data points into common themes. Once you have everything organized, you can start looking at what these themes are telling you. Do you need to communicate with members more often? Would members like access to this new benefit that other organizations are offering? Find out more.

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